Laverne Cox would like to clarify some recent statements made on the experiences of transgender women.
Last Friday, famed feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie attempted to distinguish between the experiences of cisgender women and trans women and was quoted as saying,
“I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges the world accords to men, and then sort of changed, switched gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman, and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”
But Adichie is not herself a trans woman. So for her to speak to the experiences of those who are trans is surprising, especially for an author who is usually so on-the-nose with her societal analysis.
And that’s where Laverne Cox comes in. Perhaps one of the most famous trans women today, Cox was immediately uncomfortable with Adichie’s characterization of trans women and took it upon herself to clear things up for the public. On Twitter, she said,
“I was talking to my twin brother today about whether he believes I had male privilege growing up. I was a very feminine child though I was assigned male at birth. My gender was constantly policed. I was told I acted like a girl and was bullied and shamed for that. My femininity did not make me feel privileged.
“I was a good student and was very much encouraged because of that but I saw cis girls who showed academic promise being nurtured in the black community I grew up in in Mobile, Ala. Gender exists on a spectrum & the binary narrative which suggests that all trans women transition from male privilege erases a lot of experiences and isn’t intersectional.
“Gender is constituted differently based on the culture we live in. There’s no universal experience of gender, of womanhood. To suggest that is essentialist & again not intersectional. Many of our feminist foremothers cautioned against such essentialism & not having an intersectional approach to feminism. Class, race, sexuality, ability, immigration status, education all influence the ways in which we experience privilege so though I was assigned male at birth I would contend that I did not enjoy male privilege prior to my transition. Patriarchy and cissexism punished my femininity and gender nonconformity.
“The irony of my life is prior to transition I was called a girl and after I am often called a man. Gender policing & the fact that gender binaries can only exist through strict policing complicates the concept of gendered privilege & that’s OK cause it’s complicated. Intersectionality complicates both male and cis privilege.
“This is why it is paramount that we continue to lift up diverse trans stories. For too many years there’s been far too few trans stories in the media. For over 60 years since Christine Jorgensen stepped off the plane from Europe and became the first internationally known trans woman the narrative about trans folks in the media was one of macho guy becomes a woman. That’s certainly not my story or the stories of many trans folks I know. That narrative often works to reinforce binaries rather than explode them. That explosion is the gender revolution I imagine, one of true gender self-determination.”
Wow! Cox’s words are so unbelievable eloquent; we can’t help but applaud her.
Of course, nobody can be both cisgender and transgender, so this disagreement will never be settled. But that’s not the point.
It’s not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about respecting every individual’s experiences. Who are we to argue with Cox’s personal experiences living as a trans woman?
Unfortunately, Adichie has continued to stand her ground. She later posted on Facebook,
“Of course trans women are part of feminism. I do not believe that the experience of a trans woman is the same as that of a person born female. I do not believe that, say, a person who has lived in the world as a man for 30 years experiences gender in the same way as a person female since birth.”
Yes, a trans woman’s experiences of gender and privilege are not going to be identical to those of a cisgender woman. But then again, not all cisgender women’s experiences are going to be the same. A Latina middle-class woman born in the 1990s is not going to have the same experience of privilege as an Asian upper-class woman born in the 1970s. It’s time to stop making sweeping statements about what women “do” and “don’t” experience.
Take a page from your own book, Adichie, and respect all women’s experiences.
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Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, and Tiger Beat. Her favorite Housewife is Bethenny Frankel and when she’s not watching RHONY, you can probably find her obsessing over her tuxedo cat Tom or hoarding drugstore lipsticks.